Consult the Coopers: Splinters, Dec 2010
by Kitty and Steve Cooper, Fort Collins, CO
Question from Jim LaForce, Greeley, Colorado: My partner held: S AQxxx H xxx D Qxxx C x. I opened 1S, RHO doubled, partner bid 4S, and we missed a slam. Is this hand strong enough to splinter with a 4C bid?
Coopers: No it’s not. 4S is the normal bid with this hand. The purpose of a splinter in competition is not only to tell partner about your shortness for a possible slam, but also to tell partner that you are bidding game to make and need help deciding what to do if the opponents save. To splinter you should have two defensive tricks, so that partner will not be disappointed if he doubles. The bid also helps on defense since partner knows which suit you are short in. The hand your partner held had very little defensive value, so 4S was quite descriptive and put the pressure on the opponents.
Let’s review the splinter bid: A splinter is a double jump shift that promises a singleton or void in the suit bid with four card or longer support for partner and a hand you would have opened the bidding with - at least 11-14 high card points; with only 11, points all of your them should be in aces and kings. With more that 14 points you might splinter and then cue bid or start with Jacoby 2N to find out more about partner’s hand.
When you have a singleton with four card or longer support and partner has length with no high cards in the suit you are short in, slam can be made with far fewer points than normal - a combined total of 28 is enough instead of the usual 33. For example, if you hold:S KQxx H x D Axx C Kxxxx and partner holds: S Axxxx H xxx D KQx C Ax you have only 25 points between you yet slam is likely to make. In this example most of the points are in aces and kings and there are no high cards in the short suit. In other words, an opening bid opposite an opening bid may produce slam when there are no wasted points in the short suit. By the way, having the ace of the short suit is not a complete waste (as, for example, holding the king-queen would be), but should be downgraded as it will not help build any other tricks,.
Splinters can also be used in later rounds of bidding. A good rule of thumb is that if bidding a suit is forcing, then a single jump in it is a splinter for partner’s last bid suit. For example, 1H-2C-2D-3S is a splinter - it shows a hand short in spades with good diamond support. Be aware, however, that there is an exception: most people play that 1D-1S-2D-3H is a game invitational 5-5, not a splinter. So be sure you discuss with your partner which single jumps are splinters.
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